Downtown Chapel Hill

Downtown Blog

How Dinosaurs Evolved into Sea Turtles in Chapel Hill

Although sea turtles can live to be 80 years old, at only 18 years old Chapel Hill’s sea turtles began to look like they were at the end of their lives. That was until local artist Michael Brown breathed new life into them in the form of a little paint and some clear coat recently. Michael originally painted the Sea Turtles mural in 1993 on the side of the Bank of America parking deck – visible from Columbia Street.

At the time he wanted to paint dinosaurs but that idea was rejected by the Town’s design review commission. His sea turtles design prevailed and has become perhaps the most beloved public mural downtown for kids of all ages.  Now with the colors completely refreshed and enhanced the details are striking. Visible are background designs that had long since weathered away. 

 Michael will be putting the finishing touches on the giant Sea Turtle mural this weekend Saturday, September 24 and Sunday, September 25 and always enjoys a good audience. If you haven’t had a chance to stop and talk to Michael about his murals, art work, or just about any other topic – then you are missing a great opportunity to get to know a true hometown character.

Michael’s restoration of this mural is part of the Painted Walls Project – a partnership between the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill and the Town of Chapel Hill's Public and Cultural Arts Office to catalog and restore his twenty hand-painted murals. Anyone who has ever walked, driven or bicycled in downtown Chapel Hill has seen these murals. They are cultural fixtures of our community that make the downtown come alive in colors, figures and patterns.

 Since the Painted Walls Project launched four years ago we have restored five of the murals. Donations are always needed and can be made online at:

Michael Brown currently has exhibits of his artwork at the Eno Gallery in Hillsborough.